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The Influence of Irving Benjamin Rouse: A 

Rose Drew, MA, RPA 
University of York, England 

Irving Benjamin Rouse is a Curator Emeritus at the Peabody Museum and Professor 
Emeritus at Yale University. Dr Irving Rouse has published many volumes with the Yale 
University Press of Anthropology, including The Tainos: The People Who Greeted 
Columbus (1992), and Migrations in Prehistory (1986). He was one of the pioneers of 
formal Connecticut Archaeology, early Caribbean archaeology, and is spoken of across 
the Antilles with respect. But don't call him Irving. As Ben Rouse will tell you, "My dad 
was Irving Rouse. I'm Ben."[l] 

In the October 2004 meeting of the 
Archaeological Society of Connecticut, 
Paul Grant-Costa elaborated upon the 
genesis of the Society. Paul has spent 
years transcribing handwritten notes, 
ancient Scientific American articles, and 
early drafts of site reports, focusing on 
the works of Froelich Rainey, George 
Grant MacCurdy and Cornelius Osgood. 
To paraphrase Paul's research, the 
Society was started in 1934 by a handful 
of people working from an idea 
originating in Washington DC and 
sponsored by a grant from the National 
Science Foundation. All of this was to 

inspire Yale University to gather, organize and train local archaeologists in the hopes of 

completing the Archaeological Survey of Connecticut begun twenty years before. 

Founding members included Lyent Russell, Ben Rouse (who edited the Bulletin) Carlisle 

Smith, Cornelius Osgood, and George Grant MacCurdy. [2] 

I set out to ask Dr Rouse about his own contributions to the Society. In Ben's own words, 
"I did local archaeology. Quite a bit of it. I was 16 years old when I became involved in 
the ASC. I came from Rochester New York, so this was a big deal." This conversation 
took place in July 2004; I had caught up with Dr Rouse in a room near his office in 175 
Whitney Avenue, the putative "basement" of the Peabody Museum which is located 
across the street, and the original home of Yale's Anthropology Department. Despite the 
passage of many years, Ben Rouse has continued to come into his offices at 175 Whitney 
on a fairly regular basis. He continued, "I liked the fact I was only 16 years old and 
involved with the ASC. I was involved quite early, admitted to Yale at 16, though I didn't 
actually start my classes 'til I was 17. "[3] 

Ben Rouse came to Yale University in 1930. His dad had graduated from Yale, and 
owned a nursery in Rochester. That fall, Ben worked at the Peabody; actually, as he put 
it, he "worked all over". His family had sent him off to school with $500, but he had put 
it into a bank that abruptly failed. It was the Great Depression, and Ben had lost his 
college living expenses soon after arriving in New Haven. So, he had to work. Ben did 
small jobs, odd jobs, almost any job: "I mowed a LOT of lawns", Ben said. He eventually 
ended up at the Peabody Museum cataloging collections. By that winter, Ben was 
attending classes full time, working 20 hours a week unpacking artifacts and assigning 
catalog numbers, and he soon began to recognize he was developing a new interest.[4] 

Benjamin Rouse, son of a nursery owner, had grown up with a respect for plants. His 
mind was set on botany in 1930 and on the Yale University Forestry School, which even 
then was quite prestigious. But while cataloging specimens at the Peabody for Dr 
Cornelius Osgood, he realized that although the botanical collections were in 
chronological order, the anthropological collections were not. "I unpacked a lot of boxes 
that had sat around for a long time," Ben remembered. He was soon sitting in on graduate 
classes in anthropology and American Indian Studies, and Dr Osgood was eventually not 
just Ben Rouse's employer, but his mentor.[5] 

While working at the Peabody and attending class at Yale, Ben Rouse remained involved 
with local archaeology, going to ASC meetings, serving as editor for the ASC Bulletin, 
contributing articles. His fascination with categories and chronology, as well as 
burgeoning research interests in the chronological expansion of Caribbean migrations, 
continued to be pursued as well. But the Peabody kept him physically connected with 
Connecticut sites-local folks came to him with 'arrow heads' and other projectile points 
found on their family farms, especially the Rocky Hill area near Hartford: "A lot of 
material came from there." [6] 

In the late 1950s it was decided that the University of Connecticut in Storrs would handle 
local archaeology, and Yale University would focus on national and international 
archaeology. How did he feel about that? "I didn't care by then," he said with a shrug. By 
then, Ben was formulating migration theories on a global scale, encompassing Japan, 
Polynesia, Inuit cultures, as well as Caribbean groups. His views on migration were 
innovative. Anthropologists tended to apply the "European Model of Conquest" to 
expansions of people across the globe and Ben realized that not one explanation would fit 
all situations. The gallop across continents and oceans favored by Europeans eager for 
trade goods, land, and gold could not, to Ben, be reasonably applied to small mobile 
bands of horticulturists and gatherers. Ben taught, worked out his theories, and remained 
connected to both the Peabody Museum and Connecticut archaeology. [7] 

"A big exhibit on one major site", as Ben fondly remembered, had long been on display 
at the Peabody Museum, and removed to create space. This collection from Fort Shantok 
was a favorite of his, from a site located in eastern Connecticut near New London. As 
time went by, the Native American displays at the Peabody shrank in size and became 
somewhat forlorn. In 1984, Lucianne Lavin worked with Ben to organize the Native 
American collections and create a new exhibit, displaying tools, baskets, and other 

artifacts from Paleo-indian up to Late Woodland Era and Contact. With his love of 
typology, his own concepts of horizon and tradition, and his desire for proper 
chronological tidiness, Lucianne and Ben created a vibrant physical timeline of Native 
cultures in Connecticut, which remains on display in the Peabody Museum. This series of 
display cases incorporates elements from past displays, arranged with comprehensive 
time lines and artifact type charts. [8] 

But even now, his favorite exhibit remains tucked away. Ben Rouse would prefer 
materials from the Fort Shantok collection be eventually resurrected from storage, and 
restored at the end of his own future section. "It [the Fort] was [located at] a source of 
wampum for the Iroquois — conch shells, strombus." The Fort became state park, and has 
now been transferred to the Mohegan Nation. [9] 

In 1935, a young Ben Rouse was invited out into the field by Froelich Rainey, then 
pursuing his PhD at Yale and participating in the Yale Caribbean Archaeology Program. 
Reminiscing on his field trip to Haiti with Rainey, Ben remembered, "A wealthy man had 
a yacht party and wrote off some of its expenses by having students there. This was in 
Port-au-Prince. I stopped there before my first field trip up north." Ben couldn't find a 
way up there. "Finally, I took a taxi. He kept having flat tires, and would stop a lot and 
ask for more money because it was so far up to Cap Haitien. Turns out, there was a local 
bus that went back and forth! It [the bus] was an old truck with planks across the back. It 
was quite pleasant. I enjoyed my trip back down south, sitting with other people and 
interacting. Much better than my terrible trip up north!" Ben worked a bit with Rainey, 
but didn't return to the Caribbean until 1938 when he began his own work in Puerto 
Rico. [10] 

Froelich Rainey based his ideas about Caribbean expansion and migration on the findings 
of Gudmund Hatt and other early Caribbean archaeologists. It is still accepted that after 
pre-ceramic cultures peopled the islands, societies followed that utilized well-made 
white-on-red painted ceramics. Eventually, potters who employed sophisticated modeled 
and incised ceramic styles inhabited the larger islands; these were The Taino. The first 
potters tended to eat crab, the latter to dine on clams. [1 1] 

"My first field work was with Rainey in 1935." Ben had entered the doctorate program 
by then. "Rainey saw Crab and Shell [Cultures] as two separate migrations. But though 
early [forms of] pottery were painted, and later ceramics were incised, there was a large 
transition period of plain redware. The locals didn't want to bring it in!" Rouse feels that 
the most well-known potters, the Classic Taino of the c. 800 AD-Contact Era, 
transitioned on the Islands in place, moving stylistically from high quality white-on-red 
painted ware to elaborately incised and modeled ceramics, with a long period of plain 
red-ware in use. [12] 

Ben considered 400 potential sites across Puerto Rico, narrowing the selection to 44 
locations. He relied on a local physician and avocational archaeologist, Dr Guenard, for 
information on prehistoric village sites, large shell middens, and hospitable farmers who 
might allow excavations in their fields. Ben also went where Rainey had gone, either 

excavating at the same sites or getting as close as possible; in one instance he dug a 
trench in someone's backyard-the ancient village had become a modern one, its shell 
heaps dispersed and plowed for crops. The pottery sedations he obtained from these sites, 
with corresponding human remains, other artifacts, and relative dating using stratigraphy 
enabled Ben to deduce the patterns of human habitation on the island of Puerto Rico. [13] 

Previous workers including Hatt had surmised the transition from white-on-red painted 
pottery to highly stylized zoomorphic ceramics occurred in the Greater Antilles in situ. 
Rainey envisioned an early so-called Crab Culture with pottery similar to Orinoco River 
Basin pottery replaced by a second migration from South America with the modeled 
pottery. Rouse tested those two hypotheses by excavating across Puerto Rico for possible 
transition pottery, and discovering a large period of plain redware. He was thus able to 
combine various migration and ceramic style hypotheses, elaborating some, and gently 
disproving others. [14] 

My dating of the human skeletal remains of Saladoid and Taino individuals curated at 
Yale Peabody is founded on Ben's work. Comparing individuals from different eras of 
ancient Puerto Rico, using stratigraphy and relative dating data of the various ceramic 
styles obtained by Ben, enabled me to recognize physiological changes of the populations 
over time, as well as evolving status differences. I have been able to add further support 
to popular ethnographic claims that although the Taino did indeed have two separate 
classes, no one lacked for basic necessities. [15] 

"During the late 1950s, it became clear that that with the increased pace of development 
in Connecticut a central office was needed to ensure that archaeological sites were not 
destroyed unnecessarily during construction. The goal was to survey, test and excavate 
important sites. Federal environmental protection laws were soon to follow and through 
Ben's hard work and advocacy the state archaeologist position was created by the 
legislature. [16] 

"This brief overview has described some of Ben Rouse's contributions to Connecticut 
and Caribbean archaeology. It is now clear that Rouse was a major influence on the 
development of prehistoric archaeology, preservation and museum exhibition in 
Connecticut. While an important researcher in Caribbean archaeology, Ben's contribution 
to Connecticut archaeology was enormous. We take this opportunity to recognize his 
research, teaching and his many contributions to future generations of archaeologists 
working in our state." Dr Harold Juli, Connecticut College. [17] 

Ben Rouse has influenced Connecticut archaeology with his early and continued support 
of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut [see sidebar]. Ben has changed Caribbean 
archaeology and Migration Theory (Migrations in Prehistory, 1986) by his simple 
determination to sample all of Puerto Rico, both across the island and down through time, 
and by his respect for Caribbean archaeologists. He has spent many years working with 
Caribbean archaeologists such as Jose Cruxent (in Venezuela: The Saladero Site), 
Ricardo Alegria (in Puerto Rico: La Hacienda Grande Site), and fostering working 
relationships with other notable anthropologists such as Desmont Nicolson and Luis 

Allaire. Spanish speaking researchers are generally under-read and under-appreciated by 
many Western scholars, leaving their findings buried behind cultural and linguistic 
barriers. North American and Latin workers speak fondly and respectfully of Ben Rouse 
to this day, almost 65 years after Ben first landed in Puerto Rico: a bright young man in 
his twenties, enthusiastic, and eager to explore. [18] 


Drew, Mary Rose. 2003. "A Preliminary Survey of Pre-Columbian Puerto Ricans", MA 
Thesis, Yale University, June 2003. 

Rainey, Froelich G. 1940. Scientific Survey of Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Vol. 
18, Part 1. New York Academy of Sciences. 

Rouse, Irving B. 1952. Scientific Survey of Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Vol 18, 
Part 3 and 4. New York Academy of Sciences. 

Rouse, Irving B. 1986. Migrations in Prehistory. Yale University Press, New Haven. 

Rouse, Irving B. and Ricardo E. Alegria. 1990. Excavations at Maria de la Cruz Cave and 
Hacienda Grande Village Site, Loiza, Puerto Rico. Yale University Publications. 

Rouse, Irving B. 1992. The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted 
Columbus. Yale University Press, New Haven. 

Submitted: 10 February 2006 

Editorial review completed: 19 February 2006 

Published: 20 February 2006 


Please cite this article as follows, with number of paragraphs if necessary: 

Drew, Rose. (2006). The Influence of Irving Benjamin Rouse: A Conversation. [18 
paragraphs] KAC1KE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
[On-line Journal]. Available at: [Date of 
access: Day, Month, Year]. 

© 2006. Rose Drew.